Some fall sports given go-ahead

Brandon Davis (left) and Joe McCortney pulled tires during Cougar football conditioning workouts in July.

It’s hard to imagine an autumn with no football and volleyball. Except maybe during a global pandemic.

Those two sports were moved to a spring season, by decree of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) on Aug. 5. The plan is to wedge them between the winter and spring seasons, the latter of which will start late and last through June.

The other fall sports — boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming and girls tennis — got the go-ahead, although with shorter seasons and other restrictions due to Covid-19.

Earlier, the MSHSL, advised by Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control, had ranked football as the highest-risk fall sport, soccer and volleyball as medium risks, and tennis, cross country and swimming as lowest risk. Volleyball missed the fall cut because indoor sports are more risky than outdoors. 

Centennial football coach Mike Diggins accepted the verdict.

“Of course, everyone wanted fall football, but I completely understand,” he said. “I’m OK with everything. The high school league did the best they could.”

He thinks the players will be OK with it.

“Our kids have been working hard all summer and the seniors are happy there will be a season. They all wanted a fall season but it just couldn’t happen. We will be moving forward. We’ll have seven months to train. We will be a young team anyway, with 21 of 22 (starters) graduating.”

Cougar volleyball coach Jackie Rehbein-Manthey had a similar reaction.

“The MSHSL Board of Directors had some tough decisions to make for fall sports. Being an indoor sport worked against us. But we still have a chance to play this school year and we are thankful for the opportunity.” She had held out hope for a fall season.

“Holding open gym, and knowing clubs were playing their summer league matches, and AAU basketball tournaments were being played,” she said, “I was hoping we would still get a chance to play this fall, with a reduction in matches and specifically no tournaments, due to the high number of players at one location.”

Seasons in all sports will be reduced by 30%. For football, that means a six-game regular season, rather than eight. In volleyball, it means 14 playing dates and no invitational tournaments.

Justin Doce, senior football captain, reflected, “All of us were hoping there’d be a fall season, but mostly we are happy the season didn’t get canceled. We’ll have to find other things to do in the fall. Our coaches encourage us to play other sports and develop different muscles.”

Sydney Petersen, Cougar volleyball senior, had a “bittersweet” reaction.

“Our team is very excited to have an opportunity to play and we are going to do everything we need to get where we want to be at the end,” she said. “I am disappointed we won't be playing in fall, but it is just more time that we are able to train and get better as a team.”

Jadyn Clarner, another senior, called the news “surprising,” but added, “Right now, we are all excited that we still have a season to prepare and look forward to.”  

As for their fall plans, Clarner said, “All of the volleyball starters are volleyball only, but some of us might try soccer or tennis, in order to still play a fall sport.” Petersen said she’s heard some teammates will give soccer a try, including her sister Mattie. Most players will have fall volleyball in a club.

“This is a year of firsts and lasts for all of us,” Petersen said, “and nobody really knows how it's going to work out, but we are going to do everything we can to make it a great one.” 

While cross country, tennis and swimming seemed safe bets for fall, soccer and volleyball were on the bubble. Soccer coaches were relieved at the news.

“Excited for an opportunity to represent our communities,” said boys coach Jeffrey Ottosen about his reaction. “Excited for players to return to structured training and showcasing years of development. Thankful for the opportunity to make new memories and lead our school district safely back into experiences that could be taken for granted.”

He added, “We appreciate all of the efforts and expertise of the MSHSL to use their best judgment to guide us during these complex times.”

Girls coach Ginger Flohaug had previously announced that her 20th season will be her last.

“I had my fingers crossed that we would be playing,” she said, “and I could coach this program for one more season, even if it looks or feels a little bit different. One more memory.” And it’s in the fall.

“There is nothing like the cool fall nights under the lights,” she said.

The shortened schedules for the fall season are being worked on. There will be fewer dates and no multiple-school invitationals. Scrimmages are canceled. Football and volleyball teams, meanwhile, will practice in the fall under whatever guidelines the MSHSL will issue.

Of course, any plans made now can change at any time, depending on developments in the pandemic.

"The last six months have been challenging in many ways but health and safety have been and will continue to be the foundation of every decision made at both the state level and at Centennial," said Brian Jamros, activities director. "We will continue to adapt and adjust as needed this fall and in the future in regards to sports at CHS."

Rehbein-Manthey summarized: “2020 has been a difficult year for so many people.  Adults and kids alike. We need to remain flexible, adapt and keep our fingers crossed. Everyone wants kids to be playing sports, back to school, and back to their normal routines, but we are going to be experiencing a new normal, once we are back at it.”

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